Perspectives Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

A 2003 special issue of Perspectives marked the 30th year since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that women possess a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The issue’s editorial introduction noted that the collection highlighted “what has been accomplished and what remains to be done in the effort to ensure safe, accessible and affordable abortions for women who need them.”

The issue encompassed a mix of pieces: a pair of research articles, a comment and a handful of provocative viewpoints. The two articles—by Guttmacher Institute researchers Lawrence Finer and Stanley Henshaw—presented findings from the Institute’s 13th survey of U.S. abortion providers, in 2001‒2002. The first reported that abortion incidence had declined slightly since the previous survey, in the mid-1990s, and that more than one in 10 abortion providers had closed their doors in the intervening years. The second article described significant barriers to women’s access—gestational limits, travel distance to a provider, cost and harassment from antiabortion protestors.

In the issue’s sole comment, Willard Cates, Jr., and colleagues assessed the public health impact of legalizing abortion, noting that what had once been an unsafe, clandestine procedure had been transformed into a safe one performed by professionals under medical conditions. The authors identified numerous health benefits, the most notable being a substantial reduction in abortion-related complications and death. The issue was rounded out by viewpoints covering a variety of topics—health care providers’ sometimes negative attitudes about abortion and the need for more abortion training programs; the social, moral and medical imperatives to support women who seek an abortion; and the need to convince and train providers to offer medication abortion. The editors encourage readers to revisit this special issue, and to keep an eye on Perspectives in 2023, when Roe will turn 50.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine